JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — A two-run lead proved to not be enough as the No. 2 Florida Gators (3-1) dropped its first game of the season to Jacksonville University (3-1) on Tuesday night at John Sessions Stadium.
The Gators took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning but senior Frank Rubio surrendered two hits to start the final frame. Rubio earned a strikeout before giving way to freshman lefty Andrew Baker. The duo are both vying to earn the role of closer for the Gators but Tuesday was a night they’ll want to move on from and learn from. Baker lost control of a fastball, allowing the two runners to move up 90-feet on the wild pitch. Sam Armstrong’s double off the left field wall, a ball that looked like it might be a walk off home run, tied the game. After two walks Scott Dubrule singles through the left side to walk the Dolphins off with a win.
In the top of the ninth inning Mike Rivera attempted to score from second on a Ryan Larson single but was gunned down at the plate by a perfect throw from Connor Stephens. That missed run loomed large.
“We knew we were going to be young in the bullpen, but these are the types of experiences that Andrew’s going to have to get for us to be where we want to be at the end of the year,” Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We had some other scoring opportunities – we got thrown out at the plate there in the ninth, we had a runner on third with Deacon up, left on left, and he struck out and didn’t put the ball in play. All those runs count.”
The two starting pitchers, Michael Byrne and Casey Kulina, who both threw exceptional games, marked the game. Kulina, a transfer from Penn State, threw 97 pitches over seven innings. He allowed just five hits and two runs, one earned, while striking out six.
Byrne, earning his first start of the year, improved upon his previous outing last Friday in relief of Alex Faedo. The sophomore lasted seven innings, held Jacksonville to just seven hits, no runs and struck out 10. The seven innings pitched are a season high for any Gator pitcher and Byrne took over the strikeout lead (12) after Tuesday’s performance.
“Bottom line is Michael Byrne pitched outstanding,” said O’Sullivan. “He was really good.”
The loss stings, Baker, just a freshman, had to be consoled by Florida assistant coach Craig Bell as he left the field. He’s young, but O’Sullivan didn’t pull any punches.
“In order for us to do what we set out to do this season Andrew Baker is going to have to be apart of it,” he said after the game. “Obviously it’s disappointing the way the game turned out, but there’s a lot of positives. At the end of the day, we talked about this before the season started, we are young in the bullpen and we’re going to need to score some runs in the midweek games.”
The loss on Tuesday evened the series between the two teams, 20-20, when playing in Jacksonville.
The Gators will host the Dolphins at McKethan Stadium on Wednesday night at 6:30 pm. Kevin O’Sullivan has yet to determine who will start the game but said it will “likely” be between freshmen Tyler Dyson and Nate Brown.